Question: I’m interested in long-distance riding and want the smoothest-rolling, most puncture-resistant tires I can get. Cost is no problem. I’ll skimp on other equipment to get the best tires. Should they be clinchers or tubulars? — Nelson P.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: At this point in the history of the pneumatic tire, clinchers are the clear-cut choice. Thirty years ago, it was the opposite — clinchers were inferior to tubulars. If you wanted the best ride and most puncture resistance, you rode tubulars. But then, clincher technology began a rapid development. Now, many pro teams ride clinchers in the Tour de France. Pros on clinchers have also won on the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix.
But don’t discount tubeless technology. For pure performance in terms of ride feel, it’s surely a contender. But the technology just hasn’t caught on and thus choices of tires and wheels are very limited compared to clinchers, which are the de facto standard. Your question, though, asked for a comparison of clinchers and tubulars, so let’s get back to that.
Clinchers have many advantages over tubulars. They tend to be less expensive and less time and skill are required to mount them. No glue needed!
Clinchers have one big disadvantage, though. When they puncture, they often lose all of their air instantly. If this happens on a front tire during a twisting descent, it’s nearly impossible to keep the bike upright. In tubular punctures, the air often escapes more slowly because the tube is sewn into the tire, creating a second barrier against air loss. And because the tire is glued to the rim, it’s easier to control the bike. A flat clincher doesn’t stay centered.
However, front-tire blowouts should be extremely rare if you check the tire before every ride. Look for cuts and embedded shards. Use good-quality tires, and pay attention to the road surface so you miss most dangers.
I think the biggest advantage of clinchers is their reliability after you’ve changed a flat. If you puncture with a tubular, you have to mount a spare tire on marginal glue. You need to ride cautiously in corners after that. But after changing the tube in a clincher, the tire is as secure as ever.
Coach Fred Matheny is an RBR co-founder who has four decades of road cycling and coaching experience. He has written 14 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach Fred Matheny, including the classic Complete Book of Road Bike Training, which includes 4 eBooks comprising 250 pages of timeless, detailed advice and training plans. The Complete Book is one of the many perks of an RBR Premium Membership. Click to read Fred’s full bio.